Bangladesh Seeks $600 Million in Emergency Aid from ADB to Fight Pandemic

Kamran Reza Chowdhury and Jesmin Papri
020421_BD_COVID_ADB_1000.jpg Bangladeshis join long lines to buy groceries amid the coronavirus outbreak in Dhaka, April 21, 2020.

The Asian Development Bank is moving to provide $600 million in emergency assistance to Bangladesh to help it confront COVID-19, the Manila-based lender said Tuesday, a day after health authorities recorded the country’s biggest daily jump in confirmed coronavirus infections.

ABD President Masatsugu Asakawa met with Bangladeshi Finance Minister A.H.M. Mustafa Kamal on Monday to discuss the global economic slowdown caused by the pandemic that has also disrupted export and manufacturing supply chains in the South Asian nation, the bank said.

“As a trusted and long-standing development partner, ADB is committed to supporting Bangladesh as it addresses the significant challenges presented by COVID-19,” Asakawa said in a statement. “We are working hard to respond to the government’s request of $600 million for emergency assistance to help it effectively implement its response measures.”

Economic ripple effects from the viral outbreak are “straining the large number of ready-made garment industries; micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises; and the livelihood of formal and informal laborers across the country,” the ABD said.

On Tuesday, Bangladesh reported 434 new coronavirus infections with nine new fatalities, taking its cumulative cases to 3,382, with the death toll at 110.

Asakawa applauded Bangladesh for its recent incentive and stimulus packages of $11.3 billion for salary support to workers at export-oriented industries and low-interest loans to industries and farmers affected economically by the pandemic, the statement said.

ADB’s emergency assistance would be on top of a $350,000 emergency grant that the bank had earlier provided to Bangladesh for procurement of medical supplies and equipment for fighting the coronavirus.

The multilateral lender had also provided $1.3 million in one-time cash support for thousands of Bangladeshis involved in an ongoing skills training program, the statement added.

Labor ministry threatens suit

On Tuesday in Bangladesh, the labor ministry threatened to sue factory owners who did not pay their employees – most of them garment workers – during a government-ordered lockdown aimed at containing the domestic spread of COVID-19.

“We will file cases against those factories as per the law. We will also suspend their license renewal efforts,” Shivnath Roy, labor ministry director-general, told BenarNews. “We have also started issuing show-cause notices to them.”

As of April 16, Roy said, about 370 factories had not yet paid workers’ wages for March. It was not immediately clear how many workers were affected, but local reports said over 150,000 were involved, forcing tens of thousands of them to joint protest rallies.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said in a statement that 110 of the 2,274 factories it represents had yet to release the workers’ salaries for March.

Roy warned that factories who refused to pay their employees may not receive money from a $588 million package announced by the government last month to support the garment sector, the biggest driver of the country’s export economy.

Garment businesses absorbed billions of dollars in cancelled orders from overseas buyers as a result of the pandemic, trade groups said.

Religious group criticizes closure of mosques

Meanwhile, an influential conservative Muslim group, Hefazat-e-Islam, urged Bangladesh’s government to open mosques during Ramadan, despite stay-at-home orders imposed to curtail the spread of the pandemic.

“Islam does not support the imposition of any quota on worshipers,” Mojibur Rahman Hamidi, a senior member of Hefazat, told reporters.

“The quota imposed by the government on the number of worshippers is not acceptable,” he said.

He urged the government to allow millions of people to participate in daily and weekly prayers after health authorities on Monday reported 492 new cases – the nation’s biggest daily jump so far in coronavirus infections.

Officials had pointed to people not obeying the government’s instructions to remain indoors and avoid large public gatherings as a reason for the soaring number.

“We have repeatedly been urging the people to understand the gravity of the infection and stay at home,” Health Minister Zahid Maleque told BenarNews, after tens of thousands of Muslims defied a national lockdown on Saturday and attended the funeral of senior emir Maulana Jubayer Ahmed Ansari in Brahmanbaria district, about 100 km (62 miles) from Dhaka.

Globally, more than 2.5 million infections from the coronavirus have been recorded while the death toll stood at more than 171,800 as of Tuesday, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

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